Tutorial: How to Set in a Sleeve Without an Easing Stitch

For some reason, learning how to set sleeves into blouses or dresses can cause some sewists to break out in hives. Part of the reason for this struggle can be poor pattern-drafting. Hear that! Not.Your.Fault! :-)

But with a properly drafted pattern you can often set the sleeve in without adding an easing stitch to your sleeve. What I mean by a properly drafted sleeve is one with a high sleeve cap that only has about 1 inch or less of difference between the armscye stitching line and the sleeve stitching line. When the sleeve stitching line is only 1 inch longer than the armscye stitching line, you rarely need to run a gathering (easing) stitch to set in the sleeve. Don’t believe me? Here’s how to do it:

1. Start pinning sleeve to the armscye of the shirt, matching beginning, ending, front notches, back notches, and shoulder seam first. So far NO EASING. The sleeve and the shirt body should be matching at a 1:1 ratio from the edges to the notches.
NOTE: You should now see that the sleeve is slightly bigger than the armscye, and slightly more so between the shoulder and the back notches than the shoulder and the front notches.

Setting in a tailored sleeve tutorial by Sew Maris
2. Starting at the front notch, roll the armscye and sleeve over your finger. The armscye is next to your finger, and the sleeve on the top. Continue in this manner all the way to the shoulder, easing the sleeve to fit the armscye.

Setting in a tailored sleeve tutorial by Sew Maris
3. Starting at the shoulder, continue in the same manner toward the back notches. You will need to allow a little more of the sleeve to ease over your finger than you did in step 2, or instead of the “finger-rolling” you can just pin with a slight amount of ease on the sleeve side.

Setting in a tailored sleeve tutorial by Sew Maris

4.When you are finished pinning, all of the extra fullness in the sleeve should be distributed between the notches along the sleeve cap.

5. Place your sleeve + shirt body under your sewing machine, with the sleeve against the bed of your machine. By placing the garment “sleeve down” the feed dogs will help ease in the excess fabric.

Setting in a tailored sleeve tutorial by Sew Maris
6. Take a few stitches, and then stop with the needle down in the fabric. Reach between the sleeve and shirt body and smooth the sleeve before proceeding. You will need to do this multiple times when stitching the sleeve to help prevent puckers.

Setting in a tailored sleeve tutorial by Sew Maris
7. With your thumb underneath and remaining fingers on top, grab the shirt sleeve and roll the fabric over your hand. Continue stitching with your hand in this position,  pulling gently on the seam as you are stitching to smooth out puckers. You may also need to hold the seam behind the presser foot and pull gently from the back as you are stitching. Don’t forget to stop occasionally and smooth the fabric between the shirt body and sleeve as you are stitching.

Setting in a tailored sleeve tutorial by Sew Maris
8. When you are done, you should not have any puckers in the stitching, but you can see the slight extra fullness across the sleeve cap in this image above.

9. Finish the sleeve seam as desired, and press the shirt sleeve over a ham with the seam allowance toward the sleeve.

Setting in a tailored sleeve tutorial by Sew Maris

That’s it! If by chance you did get a pucker or two, unpick a few stitches and re-stitch. With a little practice (and a correctly drafted pattern!) setting a tailored sleeve into a shirt is definitely within your grasp. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

Happy sewing!

Maris

20 Responses to Tutorial: How to Set in a Sleeve Without an Easing Stitch

  1. Gillian says:

    Woah. That method is completely new to me, but it makes perfect sense! Thank you!

  2. Cindy says:

    Thanks Maris. Maybe someday soon I’ll try again to do a set in sleeve on a woven.
    Hugs!

  3. You’re unreal! Super tutorial! I’ve just made a blazer that had no notches on it for setting in the sleeve. In the end I kind of just guessed where to start easing it from based on previous makes….. What would you have done? Is there a set standard distance? Thanks Maris :)

    • SewMaris says:

      Thanks Sarah – you are so sweet!

      I would have started the easing close to the point where the sleeve cap starts to curve upward toward the shoulder. You basically have the entire armscye to ease the sleeve – but I don’t like extra fabric under my arm. Got enough “fluff” there already. ;-)

  4. Robyn says:

    First time here from Pinterest. Great tutorial. If you haven’t done a tutorial on getting stripes to match (you are amazing!) you really should. Very few people even consider it these days. It’s the first thing I notice, especially on designer labels, and so many get it wrong.

  5. You must be a mind reader! I was JUST complaining on my blog about how terrible I am at setting in sleeves. I am definitely going to reference this tutorial next time. Thank you so much! XO

  6. Elisse Tolley says:

    Hi Maris! Thanks for the great tutorial! I have sewn set in sleeves plenty of times but with mixed results. I will have to try your technique. I do have one question, when I sew in my sleeves, I have always sewn the under arm seam and the side seam of my garment before sewing the sleeve into the body. Do you do this differently? It looks like you see the sleeve onto the body without sewing up the sleeve seam. Is that correct? If so, why do you do that? Are there any benefits of this? I would love to get some insight! Thanks!!!!

    • SewMaris says:

      Hi Elisse! Thanks for commenting!
      The technique I described is a quasi-industrial technique for a tailored blouse/shirt – and will only work if the stitching line for the sleeve and the armsyce are the same or very close to the same length. This is exactly how I insert the sleeves on all my husband’s dress shirts; attach the sleeve to the armscye, and then stitch the sleeve seam and the side seam in one long seam. MUCH easier than sewing side seams + sleeve seams first and sewing in a circle, but does require a well-drafted pattern. The reason I prefer this method is because it produces a much nicer sleeve! :-) And it is easier and faster to boot. Win-win! Does that help?

      • Elisse Tolley says:

        Hi Maris,

        Thank you so much for your timely feedback! This is really really helpful! I am planning to build “the perfect blouse” pattern soon, and am looking forward to using this new order of construction!

        Thanks again!

  7. Anne says:

    Thank you! I have never had success with easing stitches. I finally gave up and just eased it on my own like you do. Now I’m feeling smart instead of lazy!! I’ve got a Craft Gossip post scheduled for tomorrow that links to your tutorial:
    http://sewing.craftgossip.com/tutorial-ease-in-a-sleeve-with-no-basting-stitches/2014/07/03/
    –Anne

  8. Griselle says:

    That’s the way I’ve always done mine. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and this may take a little longer but we’ll worth the effort!

  9. Robyn says:

    Great tutorial….I have been applying this method without knowing the wording or description. It’s funny how some things are intuitive and others aren’t. I love your website.

  10. Barbara Covey says:

    Most sleeves seemed to have too much ease. Is this what you are referring to when you talk about a properly drafted sleeve? What method do you suggest for decreasing the ease.

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